History of Campbell County, Tennessee

Time Line


By Dallas Bogan

Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan.  This article was published in the LaFollette Press.


     With permission from the Lay Family Genealogical Association (LFGA), we shall now take from the writings of Gerald Lay and Don Lay, text submitted by Gerald Lay. The title of this essay is "He Fought the Good Fight - He kept the Faith." It concerns the life of William L. Lay, 1809-1907.

     William L. Lay was born in 1809, the same year that James Madison became the fourth President of the United States, and also the same year that Abraham Lincoln was born. William was born to Bird and Elizabeth Lay. The 1850 Campbell County, Tennessee, Federal Census records show William as age 41, and employed as a farmer. The book, "History of Kentucky" reveals that William was born in Knox County, Tennessee. His father, Bird, as evidence states, was born about 1780 in Virginia.

     William Lay's childhood is a mystery. However, he spent 97 years on this earth, married twice and had eighteen children. He was a well-known land owner, owning several hundred acres of land. He was also a prominent preacher and Justice of the Peace. Most residents referred to him as 'Billy' or just plain 'Preacher.'

     In October, 1830, William's father, Bird, bought a portion of land in Kentucky on the lower end of Elk Fork Creek near the Tennessee border. This small creek empties into the Clearfork River about two miles inside Kentucky.
William L. Lay married Elizabeth Ellison about the year 1830. She was the daughter of William Ellison, Sr., of Wolf Creek, Kentucky. They lived for a time in Whitley County, Kentucky. Their children are: Mary, Helen, Hiram, Jesse, William Paris, James, Lewis, Michael, Ida, John L., Nancy, Rachel, Isaac and Berry.

     The 1846 Campbell County Clerks office show that William L. Lay, Justice of the Peace, performed marriages in Campbell County.

     On August 23, 1849, he purchased a land grant, # 27248, at a tax sale, from the State of Tennessee for 50 acres. On February 4, 1853, he obtained another land grant, #28695, for 250 acres. This land was situated in the area of Lone Mountain, a rather small ridge separating the main valley from Pine Mountain at the northern end of Elk Valley. Located just south in the valley of Lone Mountain is another small ridge called Little Lone.

     William was the owner of land at both ends of the Lone Mountain and portions on both sides. A cave is located on this property, most likely used by the family for storing their winter supplies. It has a clear branch running through it called "The Cave Branch." The property, along with the cave, was later purchased by Nat Sewell of Corbin, Ky., who dammed up the stream and created a recreational lake. William L.'s son, Reverend Michael M. Lay, told of playing in the cave as a child. Gerald Lay relates a story told by his father concerning a dog that got lost in the cave. The dog was later seen in the Stinking Creek area on the other side of the mountain. The theory was that the cave ran through the mountain and exited the other side through an unknown opening.

     The railroad purchased right-of-ways from William's neighbors, about the year 1867, which caused problems for him accessing his timber. He immediately exchanged a portion of his land for a right of entry over the railroad property.
William L. Lay's wife, Elizabeth, died between 1870 and 1872. Her gravesite is unknown. William L. Lay, at age 63, remarried to Elizabeth (Betty) Anderson; his new wife was aged 33. This couple had four children: Louisa, Jane (Jennie), Calvin and Samantha (Mattie).

     A record shows that William L. (Billy) Lay preached the opening sermon at the fourth Annual meeting of the West Union Association of United Baptists, of which Elk Fork in Elk Valley is a founding member.

     On March 10, 1890, William sold most of his Elk Valley land, composing of 345 and 3/4 acres, to James Lawson of Capuchine, in Scott County for $3500.

     William L. and Elizabeth Lay purchased land in Whitley County, Kentucky and removed to the area. According to the deed, the property paralleled the Williamsburg and Huntsville Road.

     William and son Reverend Michael Lay were originally associated with the United Baptist Church. A local paper said that Rev. Horace Meadors, Rev. Michael Lay, and Rev. J.M. Burnett "continued the religious work with the Union Church, preaching in the public school building at Williamsburg."

     Around 1800 a Missionary Baptist endeavor generated Sunday schools and churches in the area. Also included in this effort was the establishing of Cumberland College in Williamsburg, Ky., and the Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee.

     The spring of 1906 found William suffering from the problems of old age. Michael's (William L. Lay's son) daughter, Mamie, said her grandfather William lived with them for a short time. She remembered him sitting on the side of the bed, and it "seemed to me like he was a slender man, tall, and he had lots of hair, and it was sandy looking. Daddy said that he was almost red headed. He must have been 96 or 97 when I remember him."

     William L. Lay was a survivor. He conquered the rough times through the many illnesses that are today looked upon as minor incidents. He passed away on January 30, 1907, at the age of 97 years, one month and five days. He was buried in the midst of other family members at the Upper Marsh Creek Baptist Church Cemetery.

     Found in the Scott County Historical Society: William L.'s descendants can be proud of this forefather. He stood for God and Country. The moral and ethical standards that he instilled in his children have been passed down through the generations, and we trust they will be passed on to all future generations.

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